Protest to challenge Carrboro loitering law

dhart@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2011 

— A group of residents, business owners and day laborers are calling on the Board of Aldermen to rescind the town ordinance that prohibits loitering at an intersection on the west side of town.

The group plans to gather at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads at 11 a.m. today to read aloud a "community letter" with more than 110 signatures that urges the board to immediately repeal the ordinance. The letter says the ordinance "violates the civil and human rights of any person who would otherwise lawfully be present at the intersection."

By meeting at the site at 11 a.m., the group will violate the ordinance, which makes it a misdemeanor for any person to "stand, sit, recline, linger, or otherwise remain" at the corner between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Carrboro enacted the anti-loitering ordinance in 2007 in response to complaints about harassment, trespassing, drinking and public urination at the site. The corner, a patch of grass and trees opposite a convenience store, has long been an unofficial gathering place for day laborers, many of them black or Latino men, to wait for contractors in need of workers. Town officials have said the men waiting for work are not the ones causing problems.

In June, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice sent the town a letter that said the ordinance limits people's right to work. It cited a N.C. Court of Appeals decision that said "mere presence in a public place cannot constitute a crime" in striking down an anti-loitering law in Winston-Salem.

"We're (violating the ordinance) very intentionally," said Chris Brook, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the groups organizing the event. "That highlights the fact that we could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor just for meeting and talking to the press, which is sort of a bedrock First Amendment right."

Mayor Mark Chilton said the town was unlikely to try to enforce the ordinance at the meeting this morning.

"It's a political protest, which is among the most constitutionally protected forms of speech," Chilton said. "I expect some folks from Town Hall might be there, and the police may come by just to make sure Davie Road remains open to traffic."

The Board of Aldermen discussed the issue in September and asked town staff to research a number of possible options, such as establishing another site as an official meeting place for laborers seeking work.

The board is due to address the matter again in November.

Hart: 919-932-8744

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service